New York State Bar Association Supports Rural Practice Loan Forgiveness Program

By Jennifer Andrus

August 8, 2023

New York State Bar Association Supports Rural Practice Loan Forgiveness Program


By Jennifer Andrus

California Lawyers Association (CLA) Executive Director Oyango Snell, NYSBA President Richard Lewis, CLA President Jeremy Evans, NYSBA General Counsel and NYSBA Past President David Miranda, NYSBA Past President Andrew Brown and NYSBA Executive Director Pamela McDevitt at the ABA Meeting in Denver. 

The New York State Bar Association is joining lawyers across the country to push Congress, the president and state and local governments to forgive student loans for lawyers who are willing to serve in rural areas — including vast parts of upstate New York where there aren’t enough lawyers.

Earlier this year, the Executive Committee of the New York State Bar Association voted to support the resolution, which the California Lawyers Association brought before the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association Monday at its meeting in Denver. The resolution passed.

Under Resolution 400, graduates of ABA accredited law schools would have to commit to working in person in rural communities for seven years to qualify for loan forgiveness. The resolution envisions that loan forgiveness could be provided by the federal government, state or local government, law schools, or a combination of all of them.

Similar to loan forgiveness programs in teaching and medicine, the rural lawyers program would provide access to justice for Americans living in small towns and rural communities.

“There is no supply of attorneys to meet the demand for justice, and the need is increasing,” said New York State Bar Association President Richard Lewis speaking before the ABA meeting in Denver. “The possibility of starting a rural practice and being a key member of a small community might be appealing to many recent graduates.”

In New York State, only 4% of in-state attorneys work outside of the New York City metro area. Adding to the problem, many of the lawyers working in rural counties plan to retire in the next few years and in most cases, there are no younger lawyers poised to take over the practice.

In Delaware County, as of 2019, there were only 26 lawyers in private practice. With a population of 45,000 residents, that is just one lawyer for every 1,700 residents. The county has little public transportation and unreliable cell service, making access to a lawyer in neighboring counties that much more difficult.

In 2019, the New York State Bar Association brought attention to the issue by approving a comprehensive report by its Task Force on Rural Justice. That report recommended a loan forgiveness program to entice recent law school graduates to work in rural communities.

“A program to encourage young lawyers to work in underserved areas in exchange for student debt relief is needed now more than ever,” said Lewis. “It could provide good, quality work for lawyers helping some of the people who need it the most.”


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